Thursday, January 13, 2011


My last big paper at Oxford was about how G. K. Chesterton's novel The Man who was Thursday could be read as a re-telling of the book of Job (it totally is, btw). That meant that I had to do a lot of research and thinking about the book of Job, the first two chapters in particular. These two chapters set the stage for the rest of the book, so we're going to look at them today.

The first five verses serve to establish the upright character of Job, who "feared God and turned away from evil." He does sin occasionally (see 7:20-21), but on the whole, as far as Old Testament man can be, he is "blameless and upright."

The next verse, 6, marks a change of setting. We are no longer looking at Job on earth, but are at the day "when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them." Supernatural beings, fallen and/or unfallen, have come before God, and God asks Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan responds, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." This seems like a kind of challenge that Satan is throwing at God. His reply is very specific and almost redundant, like when you want to make a point. God asks "Where have you come from?" and Satan says, "Just, you know, walking around on earth--you know, where I live, where I hold dominion. The earth, whose inhabitants I stole from you. Just walking around there, you know. Doin' my thing."

If it is a challenge, God certainly rises to the occasion, meeting it with a challenge of his own. "Have you considered my servant Job?" Basically, God is saying, "Oh, you've been walking around on earth? Did you happen to see my servant Job? You'd remember him--blameless, upright, turns away from all evil... you know Job. Did you happen to see him while you were walking around on earth?" God refuses to let Satan's implicit claim to the earth stand, and instead presents him with proof that, although he may walk the earth, he doesn't control it.

It's clear from Satan's response that he has considered Job, and that it's a bit of a sore spot, because he instantly goes on the defensive. "Does Job fear God for no reason?" Satan asks. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?... But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." Satan admits God's initial premise--that Job fears God and avoids evil--but then makes a counter-argument. "You're so proud of Job? You think he loves you, that he serves you selflessly? Take away all the stuff you've given him, then, and we'll see what happens." Now, Satan genuinely believes this, that Job's love for God is motivated primarily by what has been given to him (as it apparently was for Satan himself). He really thinks he can win this.

Then comes the most interesting part of the story--God agrees to the test. God quite literally places Job into Satan's hands, with the only restriction being that Job must live.

So to recap--Satan comes before the Lord, fresh from "going to and fro" on the earth, and God immediately takes the opening Satan gives him to bring up Job, the counter to Satan's implied dominion over the earth. Satan ups the stakes, claiming that Job is only in it for what he can get, and God accepts the challenge. Thus Job, a mere man, becomes the focus of all the inhabitants of heaven and hell, with both angels and demons watching to see what Job will do. If Job persists, Satan's challenge is soundly defeated, but if Job falls...

That's the point of the whole book, really. Job suffers not as a result of his sin (as his three friends+Elihu maintain). Job suffers because he has been chosen as the subject of the great celestial wager, whether man may persist in loving and obeying God even when all visible and physical reasons for love and obedience have failed. It is an opportunity for great glory or great shame, as all trials are.

So, I totally plan on returning to Peter pretty soon. This was just something I was thinking about while I was doing chores.

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